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Newry student faces 198 charges in UK's biggest 'catfish' case

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A university student accused of the biggest so-called 'catfish' case in the UK will face almost 200 charges, a court has heard

A university student accused of the biggest so-called 'catfish' case in the UK will face almost 200 charges, a court has heard

A university student accused of the biggest so-called 'catfish' case in the UK will face almost 200 charges, a court has heard

A university student accused of the biggest so-called 'catfish' case in the UK will face almost 200 charges, a court has heard.

A prosecuting lawyer told Armagh Magistrates Court, sitting in Lisburn, that "198 charges have been drafted" against 22-year-old Alexander McCartney, adding that the file will be with the PPS "case prep department" by the end of next week.

As it stands, McCartney, an Ulster University student from Lissummon Road in Newry, faces a total of 410 charges spread across two indictments, alleged to have been committed on various dates between September 2017 and July 2019.

Charges include possessing, making and distributing indecent images of children; sexual communication with children; inciting children to engage in sexual activity; blackmail; intimidation and encouraging a child to have sex with an animal.

Previous courts heard in addition to offences allegedly committed against more than 60 young girls across the UK and Republic, that number does not "accurately reflect his number of victims - there are hundreds more" from as far afield as the US and New Zealand.

During an unsuccessful bail hearing in April, a prosecuting lawyer outlined how the investigation began in March 2018 when Scottish police alerted the PSNI to a so-called 'catfish' incident involving a 12-year-old girl who was befriended on Snapchat.

It is the police case that the schoolgirl sent a naked picture of herself to the defendant who is then alleged to have blackmailed her that "if she didn't do what was asked her image would be uploaded to the internet".

Police inquires identified McCartney and when his home was searched police seized a computer and mobile phone.

On them, officers uncovered thousands of images of young girls in "various states of dress and undress, performing various sexual acts".

After that initial complainant came forward, over the next few months three more alleged victims came forward.

They reported that the same thing had happened to them, including being told to perform sexual acts on themselves and younger siblings, to take images of their younger siblings and even to have sex with dogs.

Arrested and interviewed for those initial allegations, McCartney refused to answer police questions and was formally charged last July.

Last December, however, a further 386 charges were laid against McCartney and the lawyer told the court that it is the "biggest case of its kind" in the UK.

"The actions of the defendant, his routine, is the same," said the lawyer.

He said McCartney "contacted victims, mostly young girls, pretending to be a girl".

He would send images to gain their trust and send back indecent images "which are then used to blackmail to send further and more graphic images, all for his own sexual gratification".

Yesterday, the PPS asked for the case to be adjourned to July 15 when they envisage a date for a preliminary enquiry will be set for the case to be sent to the Crown Court.

District Judge Amanda Brady then adjourned the case to the date requested.

Belfast Telegraph